If there's one thing you should know about the third season of Netflix's reality series Selling Sunset, it's that it isn't until the end of episode five (of eight) that we get the news that Chrishell Stause, one of the show's glamorous real estate agents, got hit with divorce papers from her then-husband, This Is Us star Justin Hartley. This will likely come as a surprise to anyone who's paid attention to the pre-season promo, which has revolved around its most tabloid-friendly element, promising a season's worth of fallout over Chrishell's crumbling marriage. In truth, we only get two episodes' worth of story out of the divorce. Which is the bad news if you're watching Selling Sunset in order to get the dirt on the Stause-Hartley situation. The good news is that's absolutely not why you should be watching Selling Sunset.
When Selling Sunset premiered in March of 2019, Chrishell Stause was the only cast member with any kind of name recognition. The former daytime soap star of All My Children and Days of Our Lives had been married to Justin Hartley since 2017. Hartley, who made a name for himself on Smallville before detouring into soaps himself on The Young and the Restless, had struck gold with a lead role on the hit NBC series This Is Us. Stause, her soap career having stalled out, was pivoting to the high-stakes world of high-end real estate — and the even higher-stakes world of reality television. Created by producer Adam DiVello, previously of The Hills, Selling Sunset follows the professional and personal dramas of the Oppenheim Group, a Los Angeles real-estate brokerage specializing in multi-million dollar homes in the Hollywood Hills. The agents are the kind of intimidatingly beautiful L.A. women reality TV specializes in, and from the very beginning they were the pit of vipers into which new-girl Chrishell had thrown herself. But, while she was the nominal Lauren Conrad of the show, the drama quickly pivoted to some of the other women who were more readily eager to deliver the kind of storylines that this genre craves. So women like the glamorously sociopathic Christine Quinn and the plucky bride-to-be Mary Fitzgerald took center stage, with Chrishell usually dragged into the dramatics by her more willfully messy colleagues.
Season 3 promised to shake that dynamic up, with Chrishell's heretofore off-screen marriage finally getting into the spotlight. Given that Hartley never once appeared on the show, likely not wanting to risk his flourishing career with any reality TV shenanigans (and who can blame him), you can imagine the show's producers were eager to finally be able to make some hay out of their celebrity cast member. Unfortunately, they don't get much. The part in the trailer where the other Oppenheim women read the news reports of Chrishell and Justin's split happens two-thirds of the way into the season, and while certain cast members — Christine and Davina, namely — are looking eager to get their digs in, Chrishell doesn't give them the chance, skipping town to spend time with her family.
Now, is this the responsible human reaction to a devastating development in one's relationship? Absolutely. But Chrishell, as she's often done on the show, tries to have it both ways. She retreats to her hometown only to film some of the most kid-gloves, soft-focus scenes the show has ever produced. It's reminiscent of Lauren Conrad's retreat from The Hills after her blow-up with Heidi Montag got too painful. Of course, by then Lauren had devoted years of her life to Laguna Beach and The Hills. Finally, in the season finale, Chrishell returns to engage in at least some kind of drama with her co-stars, but it's merely a taste. Chrishell signed on to Selling Sunset as a career move, but her reluctance to actually engage with the business of making reality television — and the show's willingness to let her skate — is by far the series' weakest element.
Happily, Selling Sunset Season 3 doesn't need Chrishell's divorce storyline to succeed; in fact, it's a testament to the show's personalities that it doesn't. We should start with Christine. We should always start with Christine. A creature of pure self-perpetuating drama and ebullient shit-talking in the form of a statuesque marble goddess, Christine kicks off the season having burned her bridges with Chrishell, Amanza, and now Mary. And with her own wedding in the works, the promise for a self-aggrandizing queen-bee stunt is heavy. Christine is the perfect reality TV creature, with an insatiable appetite for attention, absolutely no remorse when it comes to how to talks to/about people, yet equipped with a truly deranged sense of calm. She's never going to flip a table or snatch someone's wig. She will just make her apology at 7:00 PM and then deliver her next unforgivably mean bon mot at 7:15.
The other women on Selling Sunset are more recognizably human: newlywed Mary, who's always favored the most by twin Oppenheim bosses Brett and Jason; underhanded Davina who this season ends up trying to wrangle a hugely overpriced listing for a megalomaniacal Russian client; voice of reason Maya who's always just a little bit nonplussed by everything going on around her. And then there's Amanza, who is as refreshing as her name's spelling is confounding. If we want to extend the Hills comparisons, Amanza is the Lo Bosworth, a fiercely loyal friend and a low-key delight in her own right. And while Amanza's season-long story arc hinges on her chronic lateness, she gets a moment of triumph late in the season that's genuinely heartwarming.
There's a neither-fish-nor-fowl quality to Selling Sunset, sitting halfway between the unvarnished messiness of the Real Housewives and the aspirational wealth-ogling of the swath of house-flipping/real-estate shows. Even on The Hills, the focus on Lauren's fashion aspirations always took a solid backseat to the soap-opera stuff. Selling Sunset seems to be walking its tightrope pretty well, keeping the property-listings as the central macguffin that allows the Christines and Amanzas to shine. If Chrishell would decide whether or not she wants to be a reality-show star, that might be the final ingredient this show needs to get over the top. For this season, however, it's merely a taste.
Selling Sunset's third season drops Friday on Netflix.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.